What would have been the 38th annual flea market in Bennett has been transformed into a raffle-only event due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The drawing for gift certificates, cash prizes and a quilt begins at 2 p.m. June 27.

The nonprofit Friends of the Bennett Volunteer Fire Department, which puts on the annual event, reached out to local businesses to make this year’s raffle-exclusive event a success. Instead of asking for donations, the nonprofit purchased gift certificates in appreciation of past support. Many of the businesses ended up donating anyway.

“There’s a few that refused to accept payment; there’s a few that accepted payment but gave us some more,” said Assistant Fire Chief Travis Theien. “It was overall a good response.”

The flea market is a Douglas County tradition, bringing roughly 2,000 people to the town in a single day and recycling items ranging from boats and bikes to clothes and furniture. It is the Bennett Volunteer Fire Department’s biggest fundraiser of the year. Dollars raised through the flea market and an annual spaghetti dinner, which was also canceled this year due to COVID-19 concerns, are crucial to department operations.

“The levy we get from the town doesn’t cover our annual expenses ... so we’re making that up with our fundraising,” Theien said. “We’d be cutting things out if we didn’t have our fundraisers.”

Any dollars raised above and beyond operating funds are currently being earmarked for a new rescue truck to replace a donated Gold Cross vehicle that is 20 years old and has more than 250,000 miles on it.

The department has 16 members, three-quarters of whom are also first responders. Theien said the number of calls the department goes on has increased about 20% annually over the past four years.

“Last year we broke 100,” he said.

The town has a population of roughly 600, but it's at a busy crossroads — U.S. Highway 53, the power line, the Enbridge pipeline and a railroad run through it. Bennett also encompasses a huge pine forest that is highly volatile in the spring and has an aging population, Theien said.

In addition to the raffle, the friends group is partnering with a local auction house to sell some of the items people planned to donate to the flea market. Theien said they will accept a limited number of items on a case-by-case basis, with an emphasis on sporting goods, outdoor items and tools. No clothing or household items are being accepted.

Raffle tickets will be sold at the Bennett Town Hall from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 27. To purchase tickets earlier or discuss donating an item for auction, contact Theien at 218-393-3837. Watch the department's Facebook page for more information.

"We've very disappointed we can't have our get-together here," Theien said.. "We just wish people the best and to hold tight."